Charlie Brown B-17

Look carefully at the B-17 and note how shot up it is – one engine dead, tail, horizontal stabilizer and nose shot up..
It was ready to fall out of the sky. 
Then realize that there is a German ME-109 fighter flying next to it.
(This is a painting done by an artist from the description of both pilots many years later.)
Now read on, I think you’ll be surprised …


                B-17 pilot Charlie Brown
 Charlie Brown was a B-17 Flying Fortress pilot with the 379th Bomber Group at Kimbolton , England . His B-17 was called ‘Ye Old Pub’ and was in a terrible state, having been hit by flak and fighters. The compass was damaged and they were flying deeper over enemy territory instead of heading home to Kimbolton.
 After flying the B-17 over anenemy airfield, a German pilot named Franz Stigler was ordered to take off and shoot down the B-17. When he got near the B-17, he could not believe his eyes.  In his words, he ‘had never seen a plane in such a bad state’. The tail and rear section was severely damaged, and the tail gunner wounded. The top gunner was all over the top of the fuselage. The nose was smashed and there were holes everywhere.Despite having ammunition, Franz flew to the side of the B-17 and looked at Charlie Brown, the pilot.  Brown was scared and struggling to control his damaged and blood-stained plane.
               BF-109 pilot Franz Stigler
Aware that they had no idea where they were going, Franz waved at Charlie to turn 180 degrees.
Franz escorted and guided the stricken plane to, and slightly over, the North Sea towards England .
He then saluted Charlie Brown and turned away, back to Europe .  
When Franz landed he told the CO that the plane had been shot down over the sea, and never told the truth to anybody.
Charlie Brown and the remains of his crew told all at their briefing, but were ordered never to talk about it.
More than 40 years later, Charlie Brown wanted to find the Luftwaffe pilot who saved the crew.
After years of research, Franz was found. He had never talked about the incident, not even at post-war reunions.
They met in the USA at a 379th Bomber Group reunion, together with 25 people who are alive now – all because Franz never fired his guns that day.
(L-R) German Ace Franz Stigler, artist Ernie Boyett, and B-17 pilot Charlie Brown.
When asked why he didn’t shoot them down, Stigler later said, “I didn’t have the heart to finish those brave men.
I flew beside them for a long time. They were trying desperately to get home and I was going to let them do that.
I could not have shot at them. It would have been the same as shooting at a man in a parachute.”
Both men died in 2008

Want more?  Read the detail resulting from Bill MacLoughlin half hour documentary for the CKUA network,  in which Luftwaffe fighter ace Franz Stigler and B-17 pilot Charlie Brown take turns relating the unlikely details of their first meeting.

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  1. TMR says:

    Thanks very much Bill.
    This added detail goes a long way toward maintaining an accurate record of a remarkable piece of history.

  2. Bill says:

    It’s a great story. This particular version has a key fact wrong: there was no 180 degree turn.

    I interviewed both men on tape, at great length, for a documentary.
    Brown:”I was just looking for water. I wanted to get the hell out of Germany. I said give me the most direct route to the North Sea.”
    Stigler: “And then I tried to point him toward Sweden, because it was only a half an hour flight to Sweden. But as we came out over water, he made a left turn.”
    Brown: “He thought we would turn toward Sweden. When I turned towards England, he said, stupid guy, I hope he makes it, and waved us off, gave us a little salute, and left.”
    Stigler: “I knew he wanted to fly home. I didn’t think he’d make it, and we were over water, so it didn’t matter, one way or the other, if I shot him down.”

    What Stigler did…remains an astonishing act of compassion (and courage). Thanks for posting the story!

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